Aamer Hussein, unlike most of the Pakistani writers writing in English, dwells less on socio-political issues and more on the cathartic element of story-telling. In the decade that has passed, this was not considered a useful way of imparting literary knowledge, but that is not the case anymore, thanks to recent innovations in literary theory that have changed the scenario of creative writing for the better.
With the emergence of frameworks that give as much importance to plants and animals as they have been giving to humans and the politics that shape their behaviours, Aamer Hussein has emerged as a writer who was already ahead of his times. The recurrent appearance of animals, birds and plants in Hussein’s creative writing renders him an author whose works are rooted in the latest of theories such as Eco-criticism, Hydro-criticism and Critical Animal Theory, for the writer has been giving importance to the entire ecosystem long before it became a trend in literary studies. Daily Minute Mirror caught up with the prolific author and essayist to have a small conversation regarding his latest book, which got published just last month in Karachi.
What is your book called, and what is its genre?
It’s called “Restless”, while the subtitle is “Instead of an Autobiography”. It combines short fiction, short form memoirs and personal essays about friends, travelling and my writing life. Some of the pieces chronicle my experiences of convalescence after an accident in 2019 which left me unable to walk for three months, not to forget the lockdown in London since 2020.
Which themes does the book primarily cover?
It covers episodes from my life experiences, including some of grief and loss. Some are lightly fictionalized.
A lot of your works have a subtle eco-consciousness to them. Should we expect an active role of plants, birds and animals in your upcoming work as well?
I haven’t really looked at it that way, but yes, I think they do appear, particularly in the stories written in 2019 and 2020; as I said earlier, I have presented my experiences of illness and isolation in both fictional and non-fictional form, and the absence or presence of nature are a constant echo. There are swans and crows and a pigeon in one story, cats in another, and even a dead robin somewhere. One of the essays quotes a verse on nature by Ghalib while a story is titled ‘The Garden Spy’, a self-revealing title. During the lockdown, we were only allowed to socialise in parks and gardens.
What was the stimulus behind this work? Does it, in any way, relate to the uncertain times we are living in?
Very much so, to answer the latter part of your question first, as it was conceived and completed during the pandemic. One of the stories touches on the election of Boris Johnson and the troubles in Kashmir. The stimulus was my wonderful publisher and editor Shahbano Alvi’s project of collecting the pieces I’d written since lockdown, starting from ‘Restless’ (2010), a story about my teenage years which gives the book its title, urging me to write new ones and bringing them together as an informal and impressionistic autobiography.
Do you have any idea when your book will be available to readers in Pakistan?
The book is primarily for my Pakistani readers, published in Pakistan collaboratively by Ushba and Reverie from Karachi. So far, I have no plans to submit it elsewhere.